Friday, January 30, 2009

Further development of the Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake

There has been a lot of debate and news lately surrounding the Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) Boardwalk project. The project proposes to build a boardwalk along the shore and thus redirect trail users back to the shoreline instead of running on sidewalks along Riverside Drive. As a runner, cyclist, and frequent user of the trails, I am unabashedly delighted with the concept but like other citizens, I'm also concerned with the aesthetic, the cost of the project which will inevitably be passed on to the taxpayers and finally the environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystems. The Lake itself as well as most of the shoreline is public property which means the City has the ultimate say while we the taxpayers pay for it. I love that the residents living nearby are raising a ruckus because this ensures that the City will continue to be mindful that they are accountable to the public and thus address their concerns and above all, proceed cautiously. At least, I hope so anyway.

In most projects of this magnitude, environmental regulations (by independent government agencies) require the developer (here City of Austin) to complete an environmental assessment to determine what, if any, impact such a project will have on the environment, ecosystems, etc. And should the project move forward with development, the City must do so in accordance with a plan that minimizes impact and hopefully re-integrates native plants and re-establishes the disturbed ecosystem. But, guess what. Despite any adverse impact, the City can and will proceed. All they have to do is perform a cost/benefit analysis and determine that the public utility of the project outweighs the costs (money, environmental impact).

The price tag is $15 million. That's alot of money for such a small section of trail and it makes me wonder how complex the design really will be. The City has already sunk over $1M in design costs and haven't decided the route thus there is NO DESIGN only sketches. Despite the community's reservations and outrage about the design and price respectively, again the City has discretion to move forward if they have the funding to do so. Apparently they have already secured some of the funding through private donors and are hoping for federal funding from the stimulus package. Now that the federal stimulus package has passed the House, with funds earmarked for projects such as this, it's a real possibility that this project will get on the fast track. Whether we like it or not and no matter how much it will ultimately cost us. Stay tuned! I'll be posting more as news develops and this project progresses.